Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Phallic garden feature provokes fresh speculation about date of Cerne Abbas giant

YOU MUST read this: a piece in The Times about how an abandoned garden in Cerne Abbas suggests the giant was created in the late 16th or early 17th century. Click on this link here.

The Times refers to a letter in Current Archaeology magazine in which Rob Wilson-North, historic environment manager for Exmoor National Park Authority, describes finding a pair of man-made earth mounds, with a long gulley protruding from them, in an abandoned garden a few hundred metres from the giant.

“The similarity on plan of these garden features with the giant’s best known attributes is quite extraordinary,” Mr Wilson-North writes in his letter.

All sorts of theories have been put forward over the years about the giant’s origins. Some of these ideas (portrait of Richard the Lionheart, of Cernunnos “Lord of the Animals” , of Hercules, etc) are referred to in article about chalk-cut hill figures that was published in Current Archaeology in August 2009.

Over the last 15 years or so the most talked-about explanation has been the one advanced by Prof Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University. His conviction is that the giant was carved by a rogueish MP called Denzil Holles, who lived in Cerne Abbas between 1642 and 1666 and hated the Puritan Oliver Cromwell. The giant is an insult to Cromwell, a mockery of him, a wild flouting of Puritan sensibilities.

The Dorset historian Hutchins, writing in the second half of the 18th century, was told that the giant was “a modern thing” cut by Holles. The giant’s being modern would explain why there are no references to it in print earlier than 1694 (in a churchwarden’s accounts for “repairing” it). 

Also, Holles had the garden – in the grounds of the old Cerne Abbey – where Mr Wilson-North has now detected suggestive topography. The Times notes: “Mr Wilson-North does not believe that Holles necessarily created the giant, but the water feature in his garden suggests that he was aware of it.”

Logically, of course, Mr Wilson-North is right. Two mounds and a gulley prove nothing. But, surely, the kind of man who could have such a feature in his garden is also the kind of man who’d think it was a great laugh to carve a rude cartoon into a hillside?